For photos and a description of the walk skip down several paragraphs, here I’m going to give a little background information on the pool as well as how/when you can see it.
I think the first time I tried to visit Xiangtian Pool was way back in 2016 or 2017. We didn’t make it as far as the crater on that particular occasion – mostly due to a lack of planning and poor timing. Back then I was still wholly reliant on Teresa for all information regarding where and when to go, and I didn’t really even know what she meant when she said there “might be a lake there”. The second time I did actually make it – I was on my own and I climbed up past a dry Xiangtian Pool over Miantian Shan and onwards to Erziping. The fleeting, ephemeral nature of the water here makes it all the more compelling, and since then I have always had my eye on the weather, hoping to come back when the pool is full. It turned out that this was a more long-term challenge than I could have anticipated.
Much of the area covered by Yangmingshan National Park was shaped by volcanic forces, and although the last eruption is thought to have occurred around 6000 years ago, scientists believe that the Datun volcano group (along with Turtle Island), can be classified as active volcanoes. That aside, there are plenty of tells to clue in the amateur geologist to the park’s fiery origins. Mount Shaomao, for example, is an exemplary cone volcano, its upside-down-bowl shape easily distinguishable from many angles; residual heat spills out through hot springs in several places with fumeroles and hot springs scattered throughout the park; and the hollow depressions of Huangzui Shan and Xiangtian Pool are old volcanic craters. As well as being brought into existence by a volcano, the short duration of Xiangtian Pool’s appearance can be attributed the porous qualities of volcanic rock – the pool empties almost as quickly as it can be filled with rainwater. Because of this, you really need to pick your time to visit very carefully. Luckily for you dear reader, I have figured out a
very high tech and fancy simple way of figuring out when you’re likely to be able to see water and fairy shrimp in Xiangtian Pool. All you will need are two websites:
- The Central Weather Bureau’s page detailing rainfall data in Taipei
After doing a quick location search for Xiangtian Pool (向天池) in Instagram, it immediately pulled up plenty of photos of the pool. Switching to ‘most recent’ rather than ‘most popular’ I was looking specifically for those where the lake contained water and then reading the text below to see if words like ‘today’ featured in the picture’s description. This allowed me to identify several times when there had been a reasonable amount of water in the pool.
Like this one of a modestly full pool from May 31st 2020:
There were many like this with an extremely full pool in late September 2019.
And lots more in October 2016:
The next step was to check the historic rainfall data to see what was happening at these times. Below is the data from each of the three months from the above three photos.
In May 2020 there was a massive dump of rain after an already quite wet month. The greatest volume of rain fell on the 28th, and the pool was still deep for at least several days.
There was another similar heavy load of rain dropped in late September 2019. It’s worth pointing out that this data is for the whole of Taipei, and doesn’t necessarily give an accurate figure for rainfall over Beitou District, (a 156mm rainfall in July of 2021 for example didn’t result in the pool appearing – although that might also be the result of a moths’ long drought), but when the rain is the result of a typhoon, then it’s a safe guess that the whole area got a thorough soaking.
The October 2016 pool seemed to get most of its fill from a massive downpour in late September.
There is a slight pattern to when you can expect to see the pool – rainfall over 100mm on a single day against the backdrop of a wetter month is generally a safe bet, although it’s always worth checking on Instagram too if you want to save yourself a wasted journey. If spotting the shrimp is more important to you than seeing a full pool, then you’ll need to wait until the water has been standing in the pool for a while. The science of predicting this seems to be even more wooly – they didn’t seem to appear during May 2020 for example, but they were there in October 2019, as well as October 2017 and September 2016. I saw them in August 2021, so it seems that they’re more likely to appear in the latter half of the year, but that might just be because that’s when we get the heaviest rains. Good luck!
Distance: About 6.2km.
Time: I was on the trail for about five hours because my goal was to visit the pool and the shrimp, but if you’re here purely for the exercise then I would imagine 3.5-4 hours should be ample time.
Difficulty (regular Taiwan hiker): 2/10 – steep climbs and slippery steps are the only challenges here.
Difficulty (new Taiwan hiker): 4/10 – it’s a pretty straightforward trail with clear signage in both English and Chinese, the endless stone steps might be a shock to the system if you haven’t done much Taiwan hiking so far, but otherwise it’s not too tough.
Total ascent: Around 520m to a high point of 980m on top of Miantian Shan.
Water: I took about a litre, but didn’t drink it all due to the weirdly cool weather that day (under 30°C in August).
Shade: Relatively shady, but I would have required extra sun protection (preferably umbrella or hat with a neck cover) if it had been brighter.
Mobile network: Not too great, there were several stretches with very week signal, but the trails here are well-visited even on a weekday.
Enjoyment: If you get a chance to see the fairy shrimp, then the level of enjoyment is off the scale – this is literally something that you can’t see anywhere else in Taiwan. Without the shrimp its still a jolly good walk with some decent views to be enjoyed.
Other: As discussed extensively above, these shrimp are not something that can be seen year round, so plan your trip carefully if seeing them is your primary aim. Also, I found a hiking pole to be very helpful during the slippery parts of my descent.
Permit: None needed.
GPX file available here.
06:18 – Since we were still under level-three lockdown when I made my journey, I decided to make my own way here rather than take the little minibus. That in turn meant that I wanted to get through the city before morning rush hour started, and so I found myself outside Qingtian Temple (清天宮) before the day had started warming up.
There were several other early risers filling up their water bottles from the temple’s dispenser and going through a few warmup exercises. I stowed my helmet and set off up the road beside the temple, my calves protesting at the rude awakening.
Maybe twenty metres up there is a fingerpost pointing you up towards a trail map. At this point you’d better mentally steel yourself for plenty of steps, because you’re going to be seeing a lot of them for the next half hour.
06:22 – A minute further up the trail there is a second temple, this one – Qingshui Temple (清水宮) – differs from the one slightly lower down the slope in just the middle character of it’s name. Stylistically Qingshui Temple is also somewhat interesting, outside it there is a statue of a horse (for the temple’s god to ride on according to a grandpa I spoke to), and a decommissioned censer overflowing with succulents. I’ve never walked into take a proper look because there always seems to be a crowd of scowling, proprietorial old folk drinking tea in the forecourt, but it is still very obvious that this is a temple with a great view.
06:31 – Carrying on up there is a trail joining from the left to ignore. During weekends it’s not uncommon to see people selling vegetables here. In fact when I made my way down later on someone had set out a few stubby bamboo shoots for sale.
The trail climbs prettily (but steeply) up through a bamboo tunnel. There were drifts of fallen leaves to either side, and in places piled up really quite deeply – a reminder of the heavy rains a few days earlier. Look out for the mottled feathers and playful flight of Taiwan scimitar babblers through the thin stalks – I saw them here both times I’ve passed through recently.
If you look carefully through the trees (particularly on the right side of the path), you can make out the crumbling remains of several abandoned stone houses. This area was previously settled by immigrants from Quanzhou, and that particular wave of immigration to Taiwan started in the mid 1700s, so potentially these structures are 250 years old, but I’ve no real idea when these were built or when they fell out of use. If you’re curious about what they might have looked like back when they were occupied, you can head to Neishuangxi Historic Trail all the way over on the far side of Yangmingshan National Park. There’s one such house part away up the trail that’s currently maintained and partially inhabited in by its ninth generation owner.
06:48 – On the left a stone wall will a red metal gate marks the entrance to Sansheng Temple (三聖宮). In the handful of times that I’ve passed through this way I’ve never seen the gate open, nor any sign of life in the courtyard beyond (except for a stray dog one time). The area looks well maintained though, so I’m sure someone is visiting it.
06:57 – Whilst I was taking some photos of mushrooms I was overtaken by an older guy who at first mistook me for another foreigner he’d met previously. He went on to explain that he walks this trail every Monday and that the week prior he’d met a foreign university student who had been photographing poo-eating black bugs. I wonder if this guy now has the impression that all foreigners are really into decomposers.
At this junction head left and follow signs towards Xiangtian Pool.
Although the path continues to climb ever upwards, it becomes considerably less steep from this point until you reach the pool.
07:07 – At a bend in the trail I came across the lichen-covered protuberance of the Crown Prince’s Monument. It was erected in 1924 as one of many such monuments built to commemorate Crown Prince Hirohito on the occasion of his marriage. A year earlier he had visited Yanmingshan (which at that time went by the name Grass Mountain/草山), and although he never visited this particular spot, there was enough local interest to inspire the building of this monument. Its inscription was removed following Japan’s retreat from Taiwan after World War Two, but the stone itself won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
When I arrived at the Crown Prince’s Monument the clearing was already occupied by this very noisy little bamboo partridge. Together with a friend that was skulking in the bamboo just off the trail the bird serenaded me volubly for about five minutes.
07:08 – Heading away from the monument the trail remains relatively flat. At the junction here keep left and follow the stone path onwards in the direction of Xiangtian Pool. (Heading right would take you back to the path from fifteen minutes earlier and the less defined one heading straight into the trees takes to up to Huoshao Shan/火燒山. I’ve never climbed that particular peak before, but the name is intriguing enough to make me want to change that fact.)
I spotted this ground beetle (Scarites sulcatus), on the fallen leaves at the side of the trail – could this be the poo bug that the other foreigner had been seeking? This bug’s Chinese name is rather cute, it’s called 大葫蘆步行蟲, broken down that’s 大/big 葫蘆/bottle gourd 步行蟲/walking beetle, its body really does resemble a bottle gourd – smaller head and a bigger body.
Another trailside curio was this HUGE feather. It is by far the larges feather I’ve ever seen, and according to Taiwan birding twitter (a lively and interesting group), it probably once steered a crested goshawk through the air.
This section of trail is especially pretty – the leaning bamboo makes for gentle, diffused lighting, and the contrasting greens and oranges of dead and living leaves are wonderful.
At one point it’s possible to snatch a quick glimpse of Guandu Plain’s flat expanse, but then the tunel of trees closes once more.
This is the final junction before arriving at Xiangtian Pool, and through the trees on the left I could see the sparkle of sky reflecting off water.
07:34 – Although the pool was not as full as I had seen it in some people’s photos, there was still a noticable accumulation of water around the stone that sits in the centre. Some shots appear to show the pool so full that the rock is entirely covered – I’m definitely going to have to come back to enjoy that particular view
Fortunately I was slightly more successful with my second goal for the day: finding Xiangtian Pool’s fairy shrimp. Indeed, the relatively low water volume turned out not to be a negative at all since it meant that the concentration of shrimp in the water was incredibly dense.
Apart from their abundant quantities, the most striking feature of these creatures was their green tint – most likely a side effect of their algae-based diet, from above it makes them look like so many agitatedly flowing blades of grass.
They really are a hypnotic sight to watch. More than that, they are fascinating organisms. Many of us will have had childhood encounters with the fairy shrimp’s saltwater cousin – the brine shrimp – in their sea monkey alter ego form. And as you will know if you ever had sea monkey pets, these creatures have the seemingly magic ability to reanimate from dry eggs when immersed in water. Fairy shrimp (incidentally neither brine nor fairy shrimp are true shrimp, but rather they’re branchiopod crustaceans), are also able to lie dormant as eggs during dry spells and spring back to life once rains have replenished their home pool. This suspended animation (known as diapause) is a survival strategy which has evolved in a few species in order to allow them to eke out a living in environments such as ephemeral pools that wouldn’t otherwise be conducive to life. The fairy shrimp found at Xiangtian Pool are branchinella kugenumasis, and (at least according to a 2010 academic paper on the subject), this is the only place they are found in Taiwan.
If you’re just here for the shrimp and the pool you can stop reading now, the rest of this post will deal with the little wander I took once I decided to continue my walk.
09:01 – I spent quite a long time hanging out with the shrimp, but despite that, the day was still young and it seemed a shame to waste such unseasonably comfortable weather so I decided to climb up to Miantian Shan before heading back to my scooter. There is a trail encircling the pool like a mountain roundabout, so it doesn’t matter where you leave the clearing from as long as you take the desired exit. In my case this was the Miantian Shan trail, but you could also head back the same way that I arrived from or on another trail which leads to Xingfuliao trail head (doing this would mean you’d have to walk along the road to where you started to catch the bus back).
I’ve walked this route at least three times, but somehow I always fail to remember the extent of the steps. At least it’s still pretty.
Another welcome distraction were all the many and varied mushrooms. Some of the colonies were so exuberant that they seemed to have entirely consumed their host logs.
9:17 – After a solid fifteen minutes of climbing (only a quarter of which was spent photographing mushrooms), I found myself at the top of the first summit – Xiantian Shan (向天山). At 946m above sea level, it’s a smidge lower than Miantian Shan’s 980m, but alas, the path descends about 30 metres before hitting you with the final climb.
(It’s hard to spot, but there is a secondary trail which joins the main one here having first climbed over Huoshao Shan.)
09:28 – When you arrive at Miantian Shan you can choose to either head left to an observation deck or right to continue with the walk.
It’s definitely worth checking out the observation deck since it is just a few metres away and has great views. Here you can see Tamsui and Bali to either side of the Tamsui River estuary. Just beyond Bali is the Port of Taipei, and beyond that the coast curves up towards Zhuwei fishing port (somewhere worth checking out if you’re a fish aficionado).
Looking southwest you can see the trail cutting through the bamboo down from Xiangtian Shan, and immediately behind it are the jaggedy peaks of Guanyin Shan. In fact this angle is probably gives you the most accurate impression of what it’s like to hike some of Guanyin Shan’s more exciting trails – lots of ups and downs.
To the northeast the view is obscured by Miantian Shan’s twin passive repeaters. The purpose of these is to relay microwave or radio transmissions that would otherwise be blocked by the presence of an obstacle (the obstacle in this case being the mountains of Yangmingshan National Park).
09:42 – I had a little snack atop Miantian Shan before continuing on with the walk via the only other trail leading down from the peak towards Erziping.
(Actually there is another trail leading away from Miantian Shan, it looks like it’s marked on my map as being 艱難路線, but I can’t find any references to a trail of that name in Yangmingshan National Park so it’s either never walked, or is walked but has a different name. Either way it’s very easy to miss so you don’t need to worry about accidentally taking the wrong route down.)
If you’ve got clear weather you should be able to get a good view over downtown Taipei, here you can see Tamsui River and Keelung River snaking around Shezi Island to converge at it’s very tip.
Another trail coming from Huoshao Shan joins from the right at some point – easy to miss save for few hiking tags. Then suddenly as the trail takes a bend you get this lovely view of Qixing Shan raising its head between the main and east peaks of Mount Datun, (the main peak is the one on the left with the weather station).
Once the trail dips into the tree line you have to be extremely careful – the stones are slippery death traps. Several times I had to catch myself to prevent a fall, and would have certainly gone over had I not had my stick with me. I have yet to find a shoe which satisfies every need for Taiwan hiking.
10:13 – The slippery steps mercifully finished and I found myself on the wide, flat(tish) trail that runs from the Mount Datun multipeak trail head to Erziping. I turned right and made my way back towards where I’d started.
(If you arrived by public transport, you might prefer to take a left here and catch a bus at Erziping.)
10:21 – Next to the Mount Datun trail head there is a large pavilion where hikers like to either pause before starting their climb, or else recover after having just climbed up from Qingshui Temple. When I arrived there was a four-strong group of walkers with actual china cups (how?! why?!) enjoying some tea. I paused to finish off the last of the snacks I’d brought with me and was offered/force fed sweet potato and fruit – Taiwanese hikers tend to be very generous, particularly when I’m hiking alone, and it can be hard to refuse their offers even during a pandemic. I was happy to take the water pear though, it was exactly the kind of refreshing snack that summer hiking calls for.
It was interesting to note the defibrillator that has been installed here at some point in the past couple of years. I’ve also spotted one along the Nangang Mountain Trail and another somewhere else that I’ve forgotten.
10:32 – I left my newfound friends discussing why foreigners are more independent than Taiwanese people (we’re not, the apparent difference probably just says more about the type of people who choose to move outside of their home country), and continued along the gentle track.
This trail on the right would lead to the junction passed just after the Crown Prince’s Monument.
The trees form a shaded tunnel and the leaves to either side quivered with bird life. Somewhere around here I encountered a group of mixed rufous-capped babblers and Morrison’s fulvettas – the latter in particular is a very cute little bird.
10:47 – Finally I found myself reconnecting with the trail I’d taken earlier. Here the path on the right is the one that heads up to Xiangtian Pool.
Making my way down slowly meant that I was able to focus on the the plant and bug life beside the trail. Here a colony of paper wasps works on building a home for their young. It’s the second such nest that I’ve come across this year. The first one was suffering from hornet predation, and as I watched, one hornet grabbed a wasp larva and flew off with it – fascinating stuff! In both cases the wasps seemed extremely docile – I was photographing from about a metre away, and none of them paid me any mind.
The closer back down to the village you go, the more signs of farming you can see. An out of place plastic door set in a bamboo wall opens onto someone’s farmland, it had been close on my way up, but by the time I returned it was being tended to.
11:29 – I arrived back at the trail head before midday and was glad to wash myself off a bit with Qingtian Temple’s running water. It may be a pain to get up so early, but it’s nice to be able to get back in time for lunch!
How to get there
Google maps address: 新北投清天宮, No. 522, Fuxing 3rd Road, Beitou District, Taipei City, 112 – this is the address of the temple where the bus stops. There is space for roadside scooter parking, but good luck if you’re in a car, I believe that even scooter parking is probably a challenge on weekends.
GPS location: N25 09.610 E121 30.070
Public transport: the S6/小6 leaves from outside Beitou station. Both the downhill and uphill services stop at the same place, so make sure to get on the uphill one (it will have 上山 displayed on a card in the front window). Get off at the final stop: Qingtian Temple. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see a large banyan tree in the road in front of the temple. If you return to the same spot then you’ll need to catch the S6 back towards Beitou – it’s a pretty frequent service, running every half hour between 6:45 and 11pm, so you shouldn’t have too long to wait. Alternatively, if you plan to continue over to Erziping you can catch the S108 (make sure you get the correct one, the one going to Yangmingshan bus depot, not the one headed to Qingtiangang). The service terminates at the bus depot and from there you can catch buses back to Shilin (R5), or all the way to Taipei main station, (260).
Further reading: I went down so many fairy shrimp rabbit holes whilst writing this, there are quite a few papers written on the subject. This one discusses the importance of light on fairy shrimp reproduction (probably quite important); this one considers the hatching time frame; this news article introduces a second species of fairy shrimp that has been discovered on Xiaolanyu; and whilst only tangentially related, this National Geographic piece on the scarcity of male sea monkeys was also fascinating.
- Mount Datun Multi Peak Trail
- Taipei Grand Hike Section 1: Guandu to Erziping
- Xiangtian Pool to Miantian Shan and Erziping (a previous version of a similar walk but starting from a different point).
- Guizikeng Trail
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